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Friday, July 4, 2008

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Clay looking good for decathlon gold


Staff writer

Decathletes are a special group of athletes.

They compete in 10 events over two days, and they must be consistently above average in a few of them to contend for victories. Bryan Clay is one of the world's top decathletes.

Clay is a product of mixed heritage — African-American and Japanese. (He was seeing sporting a temporary tattoo of the Hinomaru last summer at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Osaka). He took home the silver medal from the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

On Monday, the 28-year-old collected his third national title, scoring a career-best 8,832 points at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials in Eugene, Ore.

Clay's stellar effort in the javelin — his toss of 70.55 meters marked the second time in his career that he topped 70 meters — gave him an outside shot at breaking Dan O'Brien's U.S. record (8,891 points). To do so, he needed to run 4 minutes, 41.24 seconds or faster in the 1,500.

He came close, completing the race in 4:50.97.

Clay's career-best score produced the world's top decathlon total for 2008.

When the competition was over, Clay was stuck in an analytical state of mind. And so he found plenty of room for improvement.

"Like I was saying yesterday, we started out very well in the 100," Clay told IAAF.org. "It was a decathlon PR (personal record) for me and then it just went badly after that. The long jump and shot put were actually terrible. I started out in the high jump almost as badly as I did in the long (jump) and the shot (put), but we pulled it together."

How did he pull it together?

"I have a team of coaches here that are in my face and they just don't let it go. If I didn't have my support system here, I think this would have been a very bad decathlon for me."

My reaction?

Wow.

Clay has set an incredible standard of excellence for himself, and that's one reason the Hawaii-raised star is one of the world's top all-around athletes.

"I'm happy with my training. I'm happy with my mind-set and I want to bring that to Beijing," Clay declared on his Web site. "I just have to get after it every event, stay focused, and do my job."

Swim talk: There's a seemingly endless supply of stories being filed this week on swimming in the United States, many of which are about the extraordinary ambition of Michael Phelps to win eight Olympic gold medals and top Mark Spitz's seven-gold haul from the 1972 Summer Games.

And there's a stack of papers on my desk about Brendan Hansen, Kosuke Kitajima's chief rival for the title of world's best male breaststroker.

One of these stories, written by Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, notes that the anticipated Kitajima-Hansen showdown is prime-time drama on both sides of the Pacific.

Ostler wrote: "Kitajima and Hansen trade breaststroke world records back and forth like two kids swapping baseball cards. In '04, Hansen broke the world record in both events at the U.S. trials before losing to Kitajima in both races at the Olympics.

"Moments after winning the 100, Kitajima coined a new phrase — 'Cho kimochi ii!' (I feel mega-good!)."

Both guys will strive for that mega-good feeling next month in the Olympic swimming pool. In the meantime, their primary focus is to stay healthy, get rest and wrap up their all-important final weeks of training.

Retired Aussie swim star Ian Thorpe has had big-time endorsement deals in Japan. The Thorpedo is a well-recognized figure here.

Hansen, meanwhile, is a relatively unknown figure in Texas, where football is the undisputed king, despite his accomplishments in the pool.

Or as Ostler observed: "Hansen walks anonymously through the aisles of the Austin Piggly-Wiggly, yet in Japan he would be recognized in the streets and fawned upon like a rock star — albeit a rock star whom the Japanese fans hope will swim like a brick come August."

Want to know why the Kita jima-Hansen rivalry is special?

They support each other.

After shattering Hansen's 200-meter breaststroke world record at the Japan Olympic Swimming trials, Kitajima told reporters he wanted Hansen to break it at the U.S. trials on July 3.

The heat is on.

Keep an eye on: Sayaka Matsumoto, who was born in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, and grew up in California, is a seven-time U.S. judo champion.

Matsumoto will make her Olympic debut in Beijing.

She graduated from the University of California, earning a degree in mass communications. She wants to be a sports writer someday.

Matsumoto's father, David, served as her first coach, guiding her through the introductory stages of the sport when she was 5.

"My dad was hard on me at home and on the mat, but I know that is because he really cared about me," Matsumoto recalled in a recent interview with NBCOlympics.com. "He instilled in me the principles and philosophy of judo — the virtues of not giving up and holding yourself up with dignity.

Matsumoto, 25, is relentless in her pursuit of Olympic stardom.

"I can't remember ever taking a month off from judo since 2000," she said.

Matsumoto will compete for the United States in the under-48-kg division.

Judoka icon Ryoko Tani has won back-to-back Olympic golds for Japan in that division, and Matsumoto dreams of competing against the superstar she doesn't hesitate to call her hero.

"I wanna get my hands on her and feel what it's like to be on the mat with her," Matsumoto said. "There would be absolutely no pressure on me at all."



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